My wife is incredible. She has been my rock throughout the last few weeks. She’s also an amazing writer. So, when she said she, too, wanted to share her experience of telling our kids about my dad’s passing, my heart leapt. The following piece is her perspective of the events so far. Be moved. Be encouraged.
I am the oldest of four kids, and throughout my childhood, my parents would call us together for “Family Meetings” on a fairly regular basis. I have very distinct memories of 3 of those meetings, when instead of bouncing around and chatting about piano recitals or family trips, we were told solemnly to “sit down so we can talk”. We could feel the atmosphere change during these family meetings, and we would just stay quiet as we watched my father tear up and my mother console him as he filled us in on the deaths of three of my grandparents. It was difficult, but manageable. The weeks after these meetings were full of relatives and funerals and then we would fall back into our loud, busy lifestyle. After those few years, we never had any serious family meetings like that again. They are just a memory for me now.
When Ryan and I had children and I became a part of the HUMONGOUS Haack family, I knew that difficult family meetings come with the territory. I have been preparing myself for the conversations that are required for parenthood since Sam was born. I am ready to discuss braces, prom dates, first jobs, college choices, “the talk”, and even death. I just had this image of us sitting in our living room, calm, yet tearing up as we described the passing of any of our loved ones. I thought I was prepared for all of this.
Turns out, there is NO WAY to prepare for having to tell three precious children that their beloved “Papa” had taken his own life.
I got the call from Ryan’s brother Joey about their dad’s suicide at 11:30am on a Monday, and after the initial shock and panic, my first thought was “HOW WILL I TELL MY CHILDREN?!” I must have cried and wailed and whimpered and mumbled and yelled, “No. It’s not true!” over a thousand times in the few hours before I got to his house and saw the police and the family and knew that this horrible thing really did happen. And I really had to tell my kids.
In Ryan’s blog post yesterday, he described the day we told the kids as he had experienced it. And while all the facts are true, while the kids truly are amazing, and while we did everything the best we could, that day has forever changed me. I needed to share my thoughts about this, too. I am struggling in my own way with the death of my father-in-law. I miss him. I know he loved me. I was just getting to know him on a deeper level. I couldn’t wait to share everything in our lives with him…I couldn’t wait to cry watching him dance with his sons’ brides at their weddings. I wanted to take pictures of him holding his OTHER grandkids. I wanted to hear him cheering for Sam, Anna, and Claire as they received their diplomas. I wanted to see photos of him and Sam standing over their first deer in the woods. I wanted him to teach the girls to change the oil in their cars. I wanted him to tease their high school boyfriends. I wanted him HERE.
As I have been processing this, I have been so thankful that my children do have MY parents, loving grandparents that are a constant in their lives. They have their Gramma Donna, Cal’s wife, and Gramma Karen, Ryan’s mom, who ADORE them. No question. Each of these people brings something special to them, but none of them is PAPA. Papa promised the kids things. He loved them with reckless abandon. And yet….he abandoned them. The anger I have in this situation can be overwhelming, because I also adore my children and seeing them hurt is the worst pain in the world. Cal left, and we had to GIVE them pain that they don’t deserve. I forgive Cal, I even understand Cal’s decision. I am not angry at him for me, but as I process this whole thing, I can’t help but feel angry for them, and the challenge is to help us ALL forgive and remember him with love and joy and thankfulness. It seems like an impossible task sometimes.
We knew that we would be telling the kids on Wednesday of the week of his death. We knew we needed to be truthful about the suicide, and we needed to make sure they knew they were welcome at the funeral to say good-bye. As we were planning to tell them, I was terrified. Ryan had so much else on his mind during the week, but my mind was set squarely on the kids. I literally saw Wednesday as the day that we took the sweet, innocent bubble they live in and just POPPED it. I actually watched them sleep the night before, so completely oblivious to the pain waiting for them.
And as I watched them, listening to their soft breathing, I thought of the Lord. I wondered if God had watched each of us sleeping on Sunday night, peaceful and oblivious, and knew that there would be so much pain the next day. Did he cry over us? Did he whisper over and over that He was there when we would need him? Did he know that this had to happen, but that we would be DEVASTATED?? Was he dreading it for us? I am not angry at all. The God I serve is loving and trustworthy and faithful and has Cal in his arms. He loves us and did not want this for us. But when it did happen, He knew that we would hurt and cry out to Him. He was there for us. He is there for me. I don’t doubt it, even in my deepest pain. We can only make it through these things in our lives BECAUSE we have his love to protect us and give us hope to make it to be with Him. My kids were about to feel pain, and I was there. I am here to care for them. And to show them that GOD is there for them, too. I imagined God watching us sleep that night before Cal’s death, ready to comfort us and ready to greet Cal. I went to bed that night knowing we would all survive this. We have each other. And God knows that.
That next morning, when the kids were all awake and had realized they were out of school, I had to say those familiar words for our Family Meeting. I actually used the phrase I had heard, the one that was full of dread and heartache…. “Come and sit so we can talk.” Their faces fell immediately and Claire said, in her no-nonsense way, “Uh oh. I’m scared.” Ryan and I were shaking and nauseous, and as Ryan started to talk, he started to tear up, and the kids transformed before my eyes. My happy, bubbly kids started to weep. Each in their own way. Sam had Ryan’s arm around him and I had my arm around Claire, and each of them folded up tightly into our sides. I watched Sam’s body shudder with sobs, and felt Claire just melt into me as she coughed and choked on her own tears. Anna collapsed into the couch, silently weeping, broken. Ryan and I just sat and cried, too. We said things that we felt we needed to say, things we were told to say. Things we believed in. Heaven. Pain. Choices. Grief. Love. Forgiveness. We told them they have freedom to feel all their feelings. Out loud or quietly. But they should share their pain however they can, so we can take care of them in it. We remembered funny things about Papa and consoled them and remembered that God is here to get us through it. They understood.
They never questioned God or His plan. They didn’t ask how Cal did it. They didn’t say anything that we hadn’t heard in our days of grieving. They reacted exactly as every grown-up who walked into Cal and Donna’s house had reacted. They made us proud. They comforted US.
We have amazing children. They have a faith that God TEACHES us to have throughout His word. They are better now since that day, too. The funeral, the visitation, spending time at Donna’s house with her, being together with us there for Thanksgiving…they were strong and got through all of that with grace. They are still in pain, though. Sam cries before bed each night, begging me to leave extra lights on and sometimes ending up sleeping on my floor in the middle of the night. He clomps around in Papa’s boots everywhere we go, also. Claire needs extra hugging. A LOT of extra hugging. And Anna just needed to hear that, as our introvert, she was completely allowed to do a thousand more cartwheels than usual each day to get her emotions out, or to mourn quietly with her introverted dad, instead of her well-intentioned, but chatty and extroverted mom (who would, for SURE, ask her too many questions!). Each child is just the right age to handle what is happening, and we have become an even stronger, tighter team because of this.
I wonder if Papa knew that I would be writing something like this. That he knew our children would miss him terribly, but that they are extra-ordinary and will never forget him. I wonder if the Lord knew that Ryan and I were strong enough to hold onto our children as they mourned and help through this time. That He just knew that we would seek Him in our grief and be able to grow closer to Him and each other. Did we make him proud? Like our children make us proud each day? I wonder.
My prayers are different now. Instead of just praying for their future spouses and their future careers (and that their teeth would magically be straightened), I pray that that Wednesday two weeks ago will have strengthened them into people that can handle ANYTHING. I pray that this is the only tragedy they have to live with. I pray that their memories of Papa will stay strong and that they will become everything I know he wanted them to be. I pray that their faith would continue to grow and that they will be able to share this time in their lives as a testimony of God’s peace.
We miss you, Papa. Thank you for loving us and knowing our strength even in the short time we had with you. We will take care of them, and they will make sure you aren’t forgotten. High-five Jesus for me, ok?
I know you will.